Working Out of the House

For most of us, a home gym means a treadmill, a few weights and a TV stuck in a basement that we visit rarely (if at all). But for some, a home gym is a source of inspiration.

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The Bodybuilder

Suki Francis’ home gym takes up 1,700 square feet of her Potomac house—with a workout area, yoga studio, bathroom and dressing room. It rivals a commercial fitness center, a terrain with which she’s abundantly familiar.

She was a competitive gymnast while growing up in South Korea. Then she moved to Southern California, and in 1977 was taking speech classes to improve her English when she noticed a student with an especially sculpted physique. “I asked her what she did to get her muscles to look like that,” Francis says. “She said she was a bodybuilder.”

Motivated by the woman’s example, Francis began working out at World Gym in Venice, the same place Arnold Schwarzenegger trained.

She was surrounded by female bodybuilders and figured if they could compete, she could, too. So she hired legendary trainer Jim Morris and entered her first competition in 1986, winning three trophies.

Francis was hooked on competing, but it wasn’t long before she began to suspect that she’d have to use steroids in order to win nationally. “I realized I had two choices: Take the drugs or quit,” she says. She quit and became a personal trainer instead.

Suki Francis. Photo by Michael VenturaShe met David Francis, a lawyer, at the gym, and married him in 1993. The couple moved to Bethesda in 1995 and Francis threw herself into being a housewife.

“I was making pillows and cooking my husband dinner and thought: Am I going to grow old doing this?” She ended up reprising her personal training business in 2000 at Rockville Fitness in Kensington, and added yoga teacher certification to her credentials in 2007.

The following year, she and her husband moved to Potomac, where they initially used the dark, low-ceilinged basement of their home as a gym.

A couple of years ago, the Francises added a 3,400-square-foot addition to the main level of their house, with half of it devoted to a home gym.

Designed by Alex Dean, president and CEO of The Alexander Group of Kensington, it features a masonry and concrete floor with professional-grade interlocking rubber mats, and is outfitted with stationary bikes, a treadmill, free weights, balance balls and a flat-screen TV. A separate, elevated yoga studio connects seamlessly to the gym and boasts 15-foot ceilings and heated oak hardwood floors.

The gym’s layout creates a courtyard in the back of the house, complete with a deck and a pergola. Dean—who says home gyms can range from $35,000 for a basement finishing project to more than $300,000 for a full addition—incorporated Asian elements with Francis’ guidance, including her husband’s painting of a moon on a round canvas.

“It’s serene,” Francis says. “Look out the windows and it’s trees and green.”

The Francises use their home gym daily, and at 57, Suki Francis now trains one or two people out of her house while still working as a personal trainer at Rockville Fitness.

“I like to teach women,” she says. “They come because their doctors tell them they need to work out, but they find motivation when they tap into their strength, flexibility and balance.”

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